July 22, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Experts weigh value of Tigers going after Jonathan Papelbon

Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon could be a trade target for the Tigers. (Drew Hallowell / Getty Images)

Detroit — Call it a little case of summer burnout.

Maybe it’s simply because I’ve gotten too many of the same questions lately.

Whatever the reason, today I’m flipping the script on the Tigers Mailbag. I’m asking the questions for once, and our analysts are guests — Keith Law of ESPN and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports.

Both appeared midday Tuesday on Detroit Sports 105.1. Myself and co-host Neal Ruhl had a whole lot to inquire about, especially with baseball’s trade deadline just nine days away.

Both had plenty to say about not just who the Tigers might be trading for, but what they actually have to give up in the farm system.

Here are the highlights of the Law interview and the Morosi chat.

Question: If the Tigers make a trade, it’s going to cost some minor-league prospects. Which Tigers prospects appeal most to you?

Law: Two guys who are in the system. So I’m going to assume (Nick) Castellanos is off the table. And he should be. They shouldn’t be trading him. I think he’s gonna be a star. But teams will ask. Not that they’re going to call on (Rays ace) David Price, but hypothetically, if they did that, the Rays are going to say, ‘Great, we want the guy at third base.’ And that’s probably gonna end the conversation.

I do think Robbie Ray will have a lot of value to other clubs as a back-end starter. There might be a little bit more in there if there if you can make some delivery tweaks to him. But teams are gonna look at him and say, ‘In 2015, he can be our fifth starter, making the minimum salary and we think there’s a little growth potential there.’ What other teams want is, what they value most are major-league-ready players who don’t have a lot of service time already, so you’re thinking, ‘We can get this guy cheap and we’ve got him for five or six years of control before he gets to free agency.’

The other guy who I’m not a big fan of, but he’s having a nice year in Double A and I think clubs that value the stat line as much as they value the scouting report will particularly like him, is Devon Travis. Second baseman. Just had a nice five-game series against Akron, so he bumped his average up over .300. I saw him in the fall league. I don’t think he’s an everyday player in the big leagues, but a guy who hits like this in Double A, it’s gonna appeal to some clubs, absolutely. And I think teams that do value the analytics are gonna look and say, ‘There’s a chance this guy’s an everyday second baseman for us by the end of 2015, early 2016.’

I think if you were Dave Dombrowski, and you want to put together your strongest package of guys in the minors, those are probably the two names you’d push out there. Because their best prospect of all, (high-school outfielder) Derek Hill, they just drafted last month, he can’t be traded for another month so he’s off the table.

Question: Who are the Tigers trade targets, other than every reliever on the planet?

Morosi: Well, that’s pretty much it right now, Tony. I was in Philadelphia last night, the Tigers had a scout there, looking at Antonio Bastardo, the left-handed reliever, and possibly, possibly, Jonathan Papelbon as well. The Tigers interest in Papelbon … if (Joe) Nathan pitches better and batter, then the actual need for Papelbon is somewhat lessened. If the Tigers' concerns about Nathan increase in the days ahead to the point that they think they have to get a closer, then I think Papelbon re-enters the consideration. Obviously, Papelbon is owed a lot of money. They’d end up paying, effectively, two closers for next season, which is again something of a Yankees-like move, when they had (Mariano) Rivera and (Rafael) Soriano at the same time.

This only happens if Mike Ilitch looks at the landscape and says, ‘Look, I feel like my team isn’t going to win the World Series if I don’t have a No. 1-level closer.’ And if they feel like Nathan’s not that guy, they go out and get Papelbon. But that’s gonna take some serious involvement by Mike Ilitch, because obviously the payroll increase would be substantial if you acquire a guy like Papelbon. That’s why the Tigers have been more focused on the likes of (Joaquin) Benoit and (Joakim) Soria, because they can either do the eighth or ninth inning, and the financial commitment is a little bit lessened.

Question: What are your thoughts on two Tigers pitching prospects who made their major-league debuts this year, Drew VerHagen (starter) and Corey Knebel (reliever)?

Law: I could see either of those guys providing some of that middle-relief bulk (this year).

I think VerHagen’s probably a little more polished, Knebel’s got better raw stuff, better ability to miss bats. Knebel, it’s not the greatest delivery, and command, it’s been an issue for him, it’s probably always going to be an issue for him. What people loved about Knebel is that he’s tough as nails, to the point you want your relievers to kind of be a little bit crazy, hard-headed. That’s what he was at Texas. Whatever you needed him to do, he was gonna go out and do it. He was the best competitor on the staff, according to the Texas coaches, according to coaches on other Big 12 teams. I do think there’s major-league futures for both of those guys.

If you ask me to bet on one for the long-term, it’d be Knebel, because I always bet on stuff. Give me the guy who’s got weapons. He can always figure out throwing enough strikes, or mixing pitches, the finer points. Whereas VerHagen, I’ve seen quite a bit of him going back to when he was in junior college. He’s got a good fastball, but always struggles to have a consistent second pitch. And it’s harder to teach a guy that than to a guy things like command or even control.

Some of the other highlights:

* Law prefers Soria as the Tigers big-ticket acquisition, citing his “stuff” and closer experience, with a guy like Rockies reliever Matt Belisle perhaps a good fit as a secondary pickup for the bullpen.

* Law said there are few guys in the Tigers system who should be considered untouchable, outside Castellanos. “You just want to value them properly.”

* Morosi said the Tigers want multiple relievers, which is why they might be looking at teammates — Papelbon/Bastardo or Soria/Neal Cotts — to minimize what they might have to give up.

* Morosi said Single A shortstop Willy Adames has become one of the Tigers most-coveted players in the farm system, which is better “than maybe we thought they had.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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